Assessing the Ability of Incineration to Inactivate CWD Prions from Carcasses

Science Center Objects

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurologic disease of cervids, presents a monumental management challenge, in part because the etiological agent, an infectious prion, is extremely difficult to inactivate and can be transmitted directly or indirectly to hosts. Due to these attributes of prions, proper disposal of CWD-infected carcasses is an important consideration for management agencies to minimize the risk of infection of new hosts and prevent environmental contamination. Incineration is one method used to dispose of infected carcasses and has been shown to inactivate prions in laboratory studies under appropriate conditions.

The efficacy of incineration in practice (e.g., using mobile incineration units), however, has not been evaluated for inactivation of prions in carcasses. Additionally, with the development of ultra-sensitive in vitro prion detection technologies with sensitivities approaching or exceeding that of conventional bioassay (e.g., transgenic mice), new tools are available to monitor prion inactivation in incinerators within reasonable timescales. During this project, we will optimize the RT-QuIC assay for detecting prions from incinerator ash and emissions, and then use the assay to examine the ability of incinerators to inactivate prions under laboratory conditions. Finally, we will evaluate the efficacy of mobile incinerator units for prion inactivation using whole infected deer carcasses. The project will provide the ability to perform a quantitative assessment of the risk posed by incineration of CWD-infected materials, insight into the effectiveness of mobile incinerator units for CWD carcass disposal, and critical guidance for management recommendations regarding proper carcass disposal to protect cervid health.

Mule deer in Wyoming with snow covered mountains in the distance

Mule deer in Wyoming. (Photo credit: BLM. Public Domain.)